On adjournment day, a deal and a dance yield a budget and 9 judges

To a politician’s eye, the choreography on display Wednesday at the State Capitol was as intricate as a dance. To the public, it was a series of disconnected moves, if visible at all.

It is how nine white lawyers, their judicial nominations blocked by concerns over diversity and state finances, became confirmed as Superior Court judges in the last hours, minutes and seconds of the 2010 session.

At 4:48 p.m., Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, stood in the Senate and began to explain a budget that the senators would approve four hours later, 19 to 16. It was the first step toward making nine new judges by midnight.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who declined to address the legislature on its last night, and the Democratic leaders, Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr. of Brooklyn and House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan of Meriden had a deal:

No budget, no judges; no judges, no budget.

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Rep. Shawn Johnston, his laptop sporting a sign counting down the hours to adjournment, talks to Rep. Patricia Dillon on the last night of the legislative session (Mark Pazniokas)

But nothing is simple, not on the last night of the session, when any single legislator can upend intricate arrangements of governors, presidents and speakers simply by stalling during a debate. Everything is connected to everything.

“It’s a delicate sequencing operation,” said Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

“If you call a bill at ‘X’ time, it might be a problem. If you call it at ‘Y’ time, it will be OK,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. “There’s a lot of moving parts.”

Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the danger on the last night is that legislators aren’t always aware how the various bills are intertwined.

“There are so many deals and side deals. You can feel it. It’s like electricity in the air,” Duff said. “Every now and then you touch something and get a shock.”

At mid-afternoon, a representative of a state agency came to Cafero and asked him to sign off on an amendment to a bill. The change would have set off a complicated chain reaction.

“Clueless,” he said as the official walked away.

But the deal on which the final hours would revolve involved the fate of nine judicial nominees, including Rell’s budget chief, Robert L. Genuario, and her commissioner of public safety, John A. Danaher III.

Williams refused to have the judicial nominees come up for a vote until Rell would agree to sign a compromise budget.

McDonald and Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, the other Judiciary co-chairman, also threatened to block a vote unless Rell agreed to restore some funding to the judicial department and to grant the department greater control over future budget decisions.

They also drafted an amendment requiring that the Judicial Selection Commission, which screen candidates for the bench, publicly disclose the race and gender in the pool of potential judges.

As part of their deal, the language on Judicial Selection and the courts’ fiscal authority had to be part of the actual budget.

They pushed for a promise by Rell to sign the budget before they would act on the nominations. She refused, and the Democrats backed down.

Instead, each side would issue statements that committed them to upholding the deal, without explicitly acknowledging a deal.

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Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan closes the chamber’s final regular session of 2010 as the clock ticks past midnight (Mark Pazniokas)

At 6:23 p.m., Rell, Williams and Donovan issued a joint statement:

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached agreement on a revised budget that fully balances the budget without raising taxes, cutting municipal aid or harming needed social services. The budget plan also includes tough spending cuts that will reduce borrowing so as to save money in future fiscal years. We urge legislators to support the budget bill and help Connecticut continue its economic recovery. We look forward to swift passage of this budget and it being signed into law.”

At 7:22 p.m., McDonald and Lawlor issued their statement:

“Today’s budget bill includes explicit language which addresses the two concerns we had identified: The integrity of the Judicial Branch and the diversity of judicial appointments.”

The House voted 110 to 40 at 8:10 p.m. to approve and send to the Senate the confirmation of the first nominee, Laura Flynn Baldini of West Hartford.

The others quickly followed: John L. Carbonneau of East Lyme, Susan Q. Cobb of West Hartford, Susan A. Connors of Old Lyme, Danaher of West Hartford, Jane B. Emons of Woodbridge, Genuario of Norwalk, Kathleen McNamara of East Hartford and David M. Sheridan of Manchester.

By 11:45 p.m., as the House was winding up its budget debate, the Senate confirmed the last of the nine.

The deal held.